The Mesa Police Department’s first Spanish telethon sent a series of clear messages to Spanishspeaking residents Thursday night: Please call to report crimes and give tips. We’re here to protect you, not deport you. You’re an important part of Mesa’s fight against crime.
From 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Univision — Channel 33 or cable TV Channel 19 — broadcast presentations by police officers and detectives that informed viewers how the telethon works and how the police department solves crimes.
Behind the telethon was Police Chief George Gascón, who said Univision and the Los Angeles Police Department held Spanish telethons periodically while he was employed there.
In Los Angeles, volunteers were able to field about 500 calls in five hours and lost as many as 4,000 calls per night because of the phone bank’s technological limitations. However, police felt that the tips they received made it worthwhile.
Gascón hopes to repeat the telethon in Mesa quarterly.
“We’re doing this to show that we’re available. We want everyone to feel comfortable calling in,” said Mesa police spokeswoman Holly Hosac.
Mesa police had seen signs that they needed to attempt some sort of outreach with Spanish-speaking residents. While collecting crime statistics, police learned that the Red Mountain precinct never reported car thefts.
Officer Sergio Nieto said it was possible that residents in the area weren’t calling police because they feared deportation. Police hoped the telethon would help quell that fear.
Nieto said the telethon’s broadcast would put a face on Spanishspeaking police officers, and this, too, would help residents become more comfortable calling the department.
Convincing some foreign-born residents that local police are not corrupt can be an uphill battle. Nieto said he’s seen 3- and 4-year-old Hispanic kids who are afraid of police officers.
The telethon is a step forward. “It builds trust,” said Univision reporter Jesus Sicaeros.
Throughout the telethon, Spanish-speaking community volunteers manned 20 telephones, while 15 Spanish-speaking police officers waited nearby to respond to calls.
One resident called simply to report that everything was safe in her neighborhood. Another caller suspected drug activity nearby.
Police officers stepped in to field nonemergency crime reports. Because Univision’s broadcasts reach across the state, many crime reports relating to other cities were taken and passed along to dispatchers for those cities.